Gen Y: Entitled, Unprofessional, Interpersonally Inept

In order to effectively create your personal brand, it’s necessary to know some of the common stereotypes about our generation.

Earlier this week, Student Branding contributor Bret Simmons talked about dealing with the millennial perception. As you engage with potential employers, keep these stereotypes in the back of your mind. While most employers understand that not every Gen Y worker will exhibit these traits, you may want to pay extra attention to ensuring your behavior during the application/interview process does not indicate that you’ll be the Gen Y Worker From Hell.

At 23 years old, I am definitely a member of the Gen Y demographic, so I have personal insights into this generation. Working in a Career Services office, not only do I advise Gen Y students, I also have the opportunity to hear from colleagues (mainly Gen X and Baby Boomers) about their impressions of us. With all of this, along with a fair amount of reading on the subject, I’ve come to some conclusions about what older generations think of Gen Y.

They think we’re entitled

This is the number one criticism I hear about our generation. The rationale is that we received everything we wanted from our parents growing up, so we’ve come to expect that life will be handed to us on a silver platter. We’re spoiled, essentially. Though the economy is struggling, we expect that our job prospects will be uncompromised. In the workplace, we want to bypass all the grunt work and be placed directly into high-level, high-skill project roles. We feel deserving of higher starting salaries and better benefits.

I don’t think this stereotype is too far from the truth, in many cases. Our generation shoots for the stars and has very high expectations. We are ambitious and we go after what we want. That, in itself, is not a bad thing. But, it becomes a problem when Gen Y expects a lot of rewards without much of the hard work.

Want a 65k starting salary? Okay, do your research and pursue a degree that typically pays in that ballpark. (Hint: It’s not PR.) Interested in getting a graduate degree at a top-ranked school? Better get studying and start pulling off the grades that will make you a competitive admit. Want to work at a prestigious firm in NYC? Begin networking months in advance…don’t expect a job to just fall into your lap the week after graduation. As long as we put in the work to back up our high expectations, I think that our “entitlement” may actually propel us forward in the long run.

In terms of the job/internship search process, do your research to find out what jobs in your industry usually pay. Don’t make salary requests 15k above the typical entry-level hire. In the interview, ask about opportunities to move up within the organization. In addition, share your desire to work under more experiences folks and learn about the business before thinking about a promotion.

They think we lack professionalism

Whether it’s wearing inappropriate clothing to work or texting friends during a client meeting, Gen Y comes under fire for lack of professionalism. Additionally, critics point to our use of technology to say that we’re incapable of sending professional correspondence because we’re so accustomed to quick, abbreviated conversations on our Blackberries.

To combat this notion, be direct in asking your supervisor about things like workplace hours and attire. He/she should be more than happy to explicitly state what is expected of you. Also, whether you’re in an internship or entry-level job position, be observant of other employees. When are they coming in to work? Certain organizations have cultures that encourage flexible start times, whereas others are extremely rigid. You don’t want to be strolling in ten minutes past 9 if you’re working at a company where everyone else arrives at 8:55. What are the other employees wearing? This is a good gauge for the type of outfits you should be sporting. In regards to professional communication, when you apply for a job and as you’re settling into a workplace, always err on the side of being overly formal. Def no abbrevs, text-speak (ttyl), or hashtags (#staffmeetingwasanepicfail) in your e-mails.

They think we have poor interpersonal communication skills

Again, due to our technology use, critics say that we’re inept when it comes to interpersonal communications. We’re so used to working with our computer screens that the nuances of face-to-face communication and collaboration are lost on us, they allege. This is clearly a problem, when so much of the world still depends on committee meetings, customer service interactions, and other interpersonal communication.

This is a common stereotype about our generation, and this is why it is important for you to express to potential employers that you are capable of engaging with other people. On your resume and during interviews, be sure to cite examples of group projects, student organizations that you are involved in, and even sports teams or musical ensembles in which you participate. Especially if you have a resume filled with technical projects and programming language (“C++, html, java”), make sure to incorporate details that show you know how to deal with real, live human beings too.

As you seek internships and jobs, it is important to keep in mind that these are the stereotypes working against you. This way, you can incorporate your positive attitude, professionalism, and interpersonal skills into your cover letter and interview, effectively addressing the employer’s concerns that you may be the Gen Y Employee from Hell, and convincing him or her that you’ll be a positive addition to the workplace.


Dan Klamm is the Outreach & Marketing Coordinator for Syracuse University Career Services. Connect with him on Twitter @DanKlamm and read his Career Blog for College Students.

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  3. Building a Brand, not a Business

6 Responses to “Gen Y: Entitled, Unprofessional, Interpersonally Inept”

  1. avatar Bryan says:

    Hey Dan,

    This is a great post! I wrote a two part blog entry with a similar feel but a different spin on the subject.

    As for entitled, I think with any entry level job — your main goal should be to Learn! Once you feel you are not learning, that is the time you should probably move on. Rather than chasing the paycheck its probably best to chase the best experiences and the salary will figure itself out.

    I disagree that the employer should have to explicitly tell you how to act or dress. You did provide the right solution however. The trick is to observe the other employees around you!

    Here are the posts if you are interested –

    Part: 1:

    Part 2:


  2. avatar Russ says:

    Great article, Dan. You hit the nail on the head. As a Gen X with a career in social media, I am constantly surprised at the lack of professionalism in many of my gen Y counterparts (showing up to seminars in torn jeans, lack of respect for trainers, etc.) , but I believe these people are the exception rather than the rule. I have also met many Gen Y’s that are professional, respectful, and knowledgeable. Many have also helped me in the arena of social media where Gen X may be seen as “old”. It’s the same story as always: It’s the person, not their age. If more Gen Y’s make the effort, those stereotypes will fade.

  3. avatar Shannon says:

    Very well said, Dan!!! As a Gen Yer trying to make it in the business world, I think you’re right on the money.

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